In Gwyneth Paltrow's household, a festive, lady-centric gathering is not just a May occasion. "One of the biggest surprise blessings in my life has been my school-mom friends—I don't need much of an incentive to get those mothers and daughters together," says the actress and lifestyle connoisseur. Paltrow's informal approach to entertaining reflects her travels (Provençale socca pancakes piled high with delicious vegetables, anyone?) along with a healthy dash of silliness (a place-card game with pictures of baby animals, described below, is "a fun and immediate icebreaker"). In the end, her philosophy for a successful party brims with warmth and elegance. "I like to balance some old-school proper vibes with a lot of relaxed casualness," she concludes. Adopt her easygoing yet memorable formula, plucked from the pages of her new cookbook It's All Easy ($20; amazon.com), for your own Mother's Day fête (May 8!).
2. The Scene
"For the table, I gravitate toward a muted palette–lots of grays, whites, and some soft pinks or lilacs," says Paltrow. Tap into her signature undone glamour with these three tips.
1. Keep it eclectic. "Nothing is too matchy-matchy or precious," says Paltrow. "I like to mix things up." Her favorite brands include the Convivio line from Match Pewter, CB2 glasses, and Lue Brass serving pieces.
2. Make the place cards fun. "I went to a dinner where they used an ingenious trick for seating: You picked a tag out of a bowl and then found the corresponding photos at the table. For a mother-daughter brunch, I would do animals and their offspring."
3. Trim your stems. "I love peonies when they're in season, cut low and lush, or a garland that lies tightly against the table," she says. "You never want to be peering around the centerpiece to make eye contact during a conversation."
3. The Pour
When it comes to serving something delicious to drink, Paltrow is a fan of a warm herbal brew. "Lemongrass adds lovely citrus notes to teas and sweet dishes as well," says Paltrow. "This infusion makes a soothing afternoon treat, but I especially love serving it at the end of a meal."
Lemongrass and Mint Tisane
1 4-inch piece fresh lemongrass; with tough outer layer removed
2 cups filtered water
Leaves from 6 large sprigs fresh mint, plus extra for garnish
5 drops liquid stevia (optional)
1. Cut the lemongrass into two 2-inch pieces and crush them with the side of a knife.
2. Combine the lemongrass and filtered water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
3. Add the mint leaves, turn off the heat, cover, and infuse for 10 minutes. Strain into a mug and add stevia, if desired.
4. Garnished with fresh mint leaves and serve.
4. The Recipes
For the main course, an array of Socca "pizzas" is an absolute crowdpleaser. Made from chickpea flour, a socca resembles a large pancake or crêpe and hails from Provence, France, and the neighboring region of Liguria, Italy. "I call them pizzas because I love to load them up with a bunch of toppings," Paltrow says. Here are three of her favorite combos. “Prep all the components in advance so you’re ready to assemble as the pizzas come out of the pan,” she suggests. “Kids love to get involved in the building process.”
Active Time 55 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes (to make all three varieties)
2 ¼ cups chickpea flour (Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo bean flour, $3/16 oz. bag; bobsredmill.com)
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for frying
Toppings (recipe follows)
1. Whisk together chickpea flour, olive oil, and 2 cups water; season with 2 big pinches of salt.
2. When ready to cook the soccas, heat an 8-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp olive oil, pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the bottom is crispy and the top is almost set. Carefully flip the socca and cook for 1 minute more.
3. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter. Dress with desired toppings.
5. Za'atar Roasted Carrot and Avocado Socca Topping
Makes 2 soccas
4 small carrots
Za’atar ($8/1 lb; nuts.com)
1/2 avocado, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. On a baking sheet, toss carrots with about 2 tbsp olive oil, a good pinch of salt, and a good pinch of za’atar. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are nicely browned and tender.
3. Halve the carrots, arrange over the socca, then top with sliced avocado and cilantro. Sprinkle with extra sea salt and za’atar and squeeze fresh lime juice over it all.
6. Pissaladière Socca Topping
Makes 2 soccas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
10 Niçoise olives
Cracked black pepper
1. Heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add onion, thyme, and garlic; sauté until onion is tender and sweet, about 10 minutes.
2. Place onion directly on the socca.
3. Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan and cook over high heat until they begin to blister.
4. Top the onion with tomatoes, anchovies, and olives; season with cracked black pepper.
7. Burrata and Shaved Veggies Socca Toppings
Makes 2 soccas
2-3 asparagus spears, shaved into ribbons with a peeler
1/2 small zucchini, shaved into ribbons with a peeler
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp olive oi
2 oz. burrata cheese ($12/4 oz.; murrayscheese.com)
1. Toss the asparagus, zucchini, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and a generous pinch of salt together to make a salad.
2. Place directly on the socca and top with burrata.
8. The Dessert
"Syrupy balsamic vinegar, usually associated with savory dishes and salads, is actually the perfect complement to sweet summer berries," says Paltrow. "Toss them together with a pinch of coconut sugar and serve with cashew cream and freshly grated lemon zest–an elegant, foolproof vegan dessert in minutes."
Balsamic-Macerated Berries with Cashew Cream
Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 20 min
For the cashew cream
1 cup organic raw cashews, soaked in water to cover for at least 2 hours
1/2 cup filtered water
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla powder or vanilla extract
For the balsamic-macerated berries
2 cups halved strawberries
2 tsp thick balsamic vinegar
1 tsp coconut sugar
1/2-1 cup cashew cream
Lemon zest, for garnish
1. To make the cashew cream, drain the cashews, then transfer them to a high-powered blender; add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.
2. Combine the berries, vinegar, and sugar in a large bowl and gently stir to combine.
3. Divide the berries and cream among four bowls or glasses, and garnish with a little fresh lemon zest.
9. The Take-Home
Spread some extra love with these etched brass napkin rings (Sir/Madam, $20 each; shopsirmadam.com) placed at each setting. Inscribed with words like "mother," "daughter," and "friend," these literal social circles also serve as a token for your guests to bring home to fondly remember the day.
For more spring décor ideas, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download now.
It's All Easy is also available as an interactive ebook with tools to guide your cooking, including filtered search options to find the recipe that’s right for you, countdown timers for timed cooking events, emailable shopping lists and step-by-step cooking instructions.
The recipes and commentary in this article are excerpted and adapted from IT’S ALL EASY, by Gwyneth Paltrow. Copyright (c) 2016 by Gwyneth Paltrow. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.